When I was a teenager, I LOVED buying thrift-store clothes and altering them. (Like everything I did, I did this before it was cool. What can I say? I’m a trend-setter). I was a teen in the age on JNCOs and pointy-toe stiletto boots, and a goth girl, to boot. I had to make due with what I had, but as a result, I had some amazingly cool clothes.
And although my days of wearing cigarette-cut pants trimmed with neon purple boas are over, the ability to tear something down and salvage the good pieces again is really coming in handy on my Work in Progress.
I’ve written almost two full first drafts of a new novel, and both of them are going to be scrapped. The first draft was like a pair of fancy cut-offs: Cut out the pieces with the holes worn through, but embellish what’s left. The second draft, it seems, is going to be more like an old concert shirt, stretched and faded beyond use. Cut out the best part and see if there’s something else you can sew it onto–a tank top, a tote bag, a throw pillow. Make something useful out of scraps.
One of my biggest pet peeves are people who get precious about their work. Who can’t make necessary changes for a variety of bullshit reasons–their characters are their “friends” (ugh) because this is how the story “came to” them, etc. They’re just words. There will be infinitely more of them. Characters aren’t real people, they exist solely to move a story forward. You’re the god, your stories can and should change to better showcase the REAL story that sometimes we don’t even see emerging until the second or third draft. Being stubborn about something that isn’t working is stupid and pointless.
That doesn’t mean you have to throw away something that isn’t coming together. That’s just wasteful! But rather, look at the strengths of the story, see what can be salvaged, and use it elsewhere. Sid in The Big Rewind was lifted wholesale from a short story that never got published. Jett was an accidental update of a character I had written just out of college.
(This is also why I am a fan of notebooks–you’re less likely to throw something away in a fit of rage and writer’s block).
You can’t wear that Tori Amos shirt out of the house anymore. It’s full of holes and stains and is stretched too thin. But it doesn’t have to go in the garbage as long as you’re willing to get out the scissors and needle. Likewise, don’t be afraid to admit that a story just isn’t working as it’s written. Ask yourself if it could be written another way — a poem, a different genre, a new POV. Would a bland, troublesome character be better off as a different gender, race, class, love interest, villain?